Local music fans have enjoyed watching Jessica Lynn’s Christmas extravaganza, A Very Merry Country Christmas, grow into a local tradition. As it expands across the land, the intimate nature of the local performers – and the genesis in the Hudson Valley – becomes all the more impactful.
“We started the show seven years ago at the Paramount Hudson Valley Theater in Peekskill, and it’s grown into something I never thought it would,” said Lynn. “It’s all the classic Christmas music, we bring in special effects, snow machines, everything you can think of to produce a Broadway level Christmas Show.”
Lynn came up with the idea in 2014 when she put together a four-piece acoustic band to open for a John Denver tribute show at the Paramount.
“We hadn’t done Christmas music before. We had fun and wanted to do one ourselves,” said Lynn. “So we did our own regular show at Darryl’s House in December of 2015 and added Christmas music. Next year we wanted to make it bigger, so we did a show of Christmas music and added a few dancers. I was so invested in the show I spent all the money on wrapping paper and props for the show, so it grew and year four it sold out. It was a transformative experience.”
The show has grown to include over 200 additional performers, extra singers, and special effects like snow and fog machines.
Perhaps the most exciting part for Westchester residents is that Lynn builds her show around performances from local organizations.
“I think her show is a great performance opportunity for the students,” said Justin Wingenroth, owner and director of The Dance Conservatory in Cortlandt. “We’re doing three numbers this year, a tap number, a ballet number, and a jazz number.” The Dance Conservatory will feature 15 students aged 11-18.
In addition to The Dance Conservatory, this year includes performances from local groups such as Star Struck Dance Studio, Next Level Dance, Street Beatz Dance Studio, The HIVE Dance Center, Nick Bukuvalis, Counterpoint A Capella (under the direction of Prentice Clark) and Lakeland High School Choir (under the direction of Robert Yapchanyk).
The show has been growing in popularity and selling out for the past several years. Last year, Lynn decided to take the show on the road, visiting two additional cities, and this year will bring her show to nine locations across New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania.
Being out of town doesn’t mean that the show loses its local flavor, however, as Lynn uses state of the art technology to work with local performance organizations.
“In each and every single city, we use local choirs, dancers, and special musician guests. It’s special to have each community embedded into every single show. It’s a different show every time,” she said. “We rehearse everything virtually. I communicate with each school, we work on the themes together, and then rehearse in person for the first time the day of the show. Up until then, we do everything over video. We’ll send recordings of everyone rehearsing. It can be just as effective as rehearsing in person.”
Lynn is no stranger to playing in new cities, having toured the globe for years. She has seen how audiences across the world each have their own culture.
“It took some time to learn that every country in Europe is different,” said Lynn. “France is more still and focused than Germany. The first time I was in France, they were silent, and I thought we bombed, but they cheered for so long after the show, we didn’t know what to do! Germany is a crazy party city, from the second you start, people start going bonkers. Poland is a crazy place, Lithuania is still. The south of England is a little more reserved, in the north, they let loose.”
The nuance of travel makes the familiar details of home all the more meaningful.
“It’s special playing Peekskill because these people have been there from the beginning,” she said. There is something cool about the Paramount stage. That’s where I started, and now selling out and having to do multiple shows, it’s such a cool thing to think about when thinking about my journey.”
The show benefits the U.S. Marine Corps’ Toys for Tots Foundation. It runs at the Paramount Hudson Valley on Saturday, Dec. 16 at 8 p.m., and Sunday Dec. 17 at 3 p.m.
Photos by Scott Vincent